One year in, B.P.C. library fosters community spirit


BY Aline Reynolds

Financial District resident Grace Tate considers her local public library to be her home office.

Tate, who runs a paralegal outsourcing boutique, sets up shop at the same computer every day, six days a week, on the first floor of the Battery Park City library, a branch of the New York Public Library, where she performs legal research, composes legal briefs, listens to music and watches movies.

Tate will treat herself to a gyro sandwich from a vendor stationed in front of the nearby Whole Foods Market when she gets in a good day’s work.

“The library has been indispensable” since May of last year, Tate said, when she began coming regularly.

“At home, you can have all kinds of distractions,” she said. “Here, I lose myself in what I’m doing. I like my routine.”

The B.P.C. library, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in March, welcomed more than 173,200 patrons in its first year, and offered a whopping 375 programs for children, adults and seniors.

Its busiest month was last July, when it served more than 17,000 patrons, according to the library’s manager, Billy Parrott.

“All you have to do is open the doors and people come,” said Parrott, an employee of the New York Public Library system since 2004.

Between the influx of neighborhood workers and youths, Parrott said, the library is bustling all day long. Nannies and parents flock to the facility in the morning and leave by lunchtime. Workers from the World Financial Center swing by during their lunch breaks, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., to borrow a book or read a newspaper. And, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., teens from Stuyvesant High School, located a few blocks north of the library, come and hang out after their school day is finished.

The library is the New York Public Library’s first “green” branch in Manhattan and is aiming for gold certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which Parrott expects to receive in the next year.

The lights on the facility’s second floor dim automatically when it gets bright outside. Its carpeting is made of recycled truck tires and its wood is composed of discarded pieces of manufactured window frames.

The environmentally friendly design of the building, Parrott said, has a particularly healthy influence on the youngsters that use the library. “The idea is to get the kids started young… and having a space like this shows [that] you don’t have to make compromises from a visual and design standpoint,” he said.

The library is celebrating Earth Day the week of April 18 with an environmentally themed session of its weekly activity, “Picture Book Time” and a special session called “Earth Day Craft!”

On Monday, April 18, Anne Barreca, the children’s librarian that handles “Picture Book Time,” read aloud “Let’s Save the Animals,” “On Meadoview Street,” and other environmental kids’ books to a group of wide-eyed children, ages two to eight.

“There is more of a sense of community” at the Battery Park City library, Barreca said, than at the Seward Park Library, where she formerly worked. “There are more regulars and toddlers here. I like getting to know everyone,” she said.

The B.P.C. patrons, Barreca added, are especially well-versed in children’s literature.

She visits the Battery Park City Day Nursery, P.S. 276, I.S. 89 and other local schools on a regular basis to conduct “story time” sessions and talk to the youngsters about the library.

In the 13 months they’ve been living in New York, the library “has become an extension of our family,” said Tracey-Ann Spencer, mother of eight-year-old Decklan and five-year-old Bronwyn, who attended the April 18 “Picture Book Time” session.

The Spencer family moved from southern Australia to South End Avenue in Battery Park City on March 13, 2010 — two days, coincidentally, before the library’s grand opening.

Decklan and Bronwyn borrow books, play computer games and frequent story time at the library at least three times a week. (The library offers four “story time” classes, total, for different age groups.) The siblings also attend the library’s puppet shows and live animal displays, and partake in its arts and crafts activities.

Decklan devours several books in a few days’ time and says he is always itching to return to the library to replenish his stock. Often, Barreca or another librarian has a list of suggested reads prepared for him when he comes in.

“It’s really fun coming here,” Decklan said. “I really like how Anne [tells] the stories.”

The librarians, Tracey-Ann said, seem to have a passion for what they do. “They really get to know the people who come into the branch and are always willing to help.”

“It’s a real team effort,” she continued. “It is a wonderful thing for a community to have such a friendly, fun place in their neighborhood.”

In anticipation of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the library will be holding origami-making classes as part of a peace crane project. Staff will collect the patron-crafted trinkets throughout the spring and summer to create an installation that they’ll put on display at the branch by September.

The purpose of the project, Parrott explained, is “to get everybody in the community involved.”